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Winter Carnival Home To Nation's Largest Jigsaw Puzzle Contest

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- We've likely all done a puzzle at some stage of our life. It's relaxing. Something you can do by yourself or with friends or family. But for others, it's competitive. Teams travel to compete in jigsaw puzzle derby's and contests. The St. Paul Winter Carnival is host to the biggest in the country, where the passion people have for puzzles is palpable.

"When they do the countdown and all the bags open it's so exciting for us to see all the other people who love to do puzzles like us," Leslie Cameron of California said.

The puzzle is kept a secret until the moment teams tear in. Seventy-seven teams of four fill the round tables inside the Landmark Center.

"I didn't know there was this many puzzle fanatics," newcomer Elizabeth White of Texas said.

The goal is to interlock all 500 pieces of the jigsaw puzzle the fastest. Participants traveled from Texas, Massachusetts, Utah and California. And it's all to get their hands on a puzzle in room full of like-minded people.

The reigning champs, Wicker Kittens from Duluth, were back to defend their puzzle perfecting title.

"We have done a lot of practicing this year just to make sure we have the best chance possible," Misty Havens said.

And there's the team looking to make a come-back.

"We have a friendly rivalry going. We've won several years, they've won a few years," Mark Geis said.

The Collectors connected more than a decade ago.

"I was asked to audition," Cynthia Smith said.

Cynthia Smith, Mark Geis and Mike Helland are from the Twin Cities. Fourth teammate John Wittneben is a former State Representative from Iowa.

"I think what really makes our team click is how well we work together there's no competition amongst us," Wittneben said.

Each brings their own skill set to the table.

"I'm a tactile person and I like putting the pieces in and the hand eye coordination," Geis said.

The team develops a strategy during practice puzzling for hours before a competition. There's a method to being fast and precise.

"People usually pick large color areas and work them. One person might do sorting for the team, that's often me," Helland said.

"People ask how do you practice doing jigsaw puzzles you don't really practice it's a skill you have or don't have. What we practice is staying out of each other's way and working together as a team and I think we do pretty well," Smith said.

The fascination with snapping pieces into place began early for these puzzlers.
And it has only grown.

"I think I'm over 10,000 jigsaw puzzles in the house," Wittneben said.

When a piece clicks into place, it offers a sense of accomplishment.

"It's a problem where you know there's a solution. If you just work at it you know you can solve it and when you're done you know you've solved it completely and correctly," Helland said.

The team thrives on competition and comradery.

"I'm going to be in a room with 200 to 300 people that I can say all the stuff that makes sense to them that wouldn't make sense to other people that they would laugh at," Helland said.

During the race to finish its unknown how far along other teams are. The focus is inside the border. When the final few are left to click into place, motivation goes a long way.

"Done, done!" The Collectors screamed, "We're back!"

The winning team, The Collectors, completed the puzzle in 36 minutes, 52 seconds. Other teams took two hours to finish.

What made the puzzle challenging is what's called a puzzle twist. Images on the box were in different places in the puzzle, some were different colors.

The Winter Carnival competition is so sought after, registration sells out in a few days.

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